Olympic fervour

Update: Monday: Once again I made the mistake of forgetting that not everyone reading would know what prompted this post. What prompted it was this comment on my post about a dopy BBC film clip about natural selection and slavery and fast runners.


Oh, so it’s a thing. I didn’t know it was a thing – this “you have to be all ecstatic about the Olympics” bollix. Joan Smith says about it.

Some things matter more than sport. But I’ve come back to my own country to discover Olympic fervour encouraging a species of emotional correctness, where anyone who doesn’t care for competitive games is regarded as a killjoy. It’s like being transported to a Victorian public school, where anything less than a passionate interest in muscular athleticism is regarded with peevish suspicion. You aren’t interested in hockey or diving? You don’t care about medal tables? Shame on you!

The funny thing about that is that I’ve actually paid more attention this year than I usually do, but I still haven’t escaped the emotional correctness patrol.

I know plenty of people who’ve watched one or two Olympic events but could do without the wall-to-wall coverage, let alone shrill demands that successful athletes should be given knighthoods. Athletes are competitive people who care desperately about personal success, and I’m not convinced they deserve public honours as well as medals.

I’m there. It can be beautiful and/or impressive to watch, but it’s still just sport, it’s not heroism. It’s not geeks landing a one-ton mobile science laboratory on Mars. On Mars. There you get the incredible accomplishment and you get the mobile science laboratory on Mars. It’s not MSF or those people who repair fistulas in Ethiopia or people who teach school in Afghanistan. It’s sport. Nobody is required to take it seriously.



  1. ImaginesABeach says

    I haven’t seen any of the Olympics. If it weren’t for NPR when I’m driving, I would completely avoid the whole thing. I’m pretty sure that makes me un-American, if not downright un-Worldian.

  2. Clio says

    It’d be a sad world if we were all good at the same thing. They’ve worked as hard as anyone whose skills are more of the intellect. We should celebrate it all and not knock each other :)

  3. LeftSidePositive says

    Clio, they may have worked as hard, but how many lives did they save? What great strides forward did they make for humanity and our technological advancements?

  4. Ralph says

    True. No-one is required to take art seriously either. That’s why it’s glorious. Art and sport share much, not least of which is their glorious uselessness. It’s fine not to be swept up in it. Who said it wasn’t? I guess you just want a reason to complain. Enjoy.

  5. says

    I don’t think we have to celebrate everything equally as long as it represents the same amount of work. I am impressed by athletic skills and I have said so, even here, even squeeing now and then, but I still say I get to be more awestruck by the people who landed that thing on Mars.

  6. piegasm says

    I dunno, I’d say a whole bunch of people from all over the world and all manner of belief systems coming together in one place to put aside their differences and compete as equals isn’t quite as vacuous as you make it out to be. I can’t really think of a better illustration than the Olympics of the fact that, whatever our particular cultural background is, we’re all fundamentally the same. Whatever the color of someone’s jersey or the color of their skin, they all experience the same joy when they win and the same disappointment when they lose. That’s the reason I’ve always loved the Olympics even though I don’t follow the vast majority of those sports outside the games.

    Having said that, it is ridiculous to criticize people if they don’t care to watch, especially given how horrible NBC’s coverage was this go-round.

  7. says

    Clio, they may have worked as hard, but how many lives did they save? What great strides forward did they make for humanity and our technological advancements?

    Oscar Pistorius certainly made more great strides forward for humanity and technological advancements than I ever have.

  8. says

    I didn’t say it was vacuous! Jeez, people, pay attention. I said –

    It can be beautiful and/or impressive to watch

    I am impressed by athletic skills and I have said so, even here, even squeeing now and then

  9. says

    No, he didn’t design the legs but I suspect the fact that he competes on them provides a lot of data to the people who do that they wouldn’t otherwise have, plus he generates a lot of interest in what can be done with prosthetics.

  10. Nathaniel Frein says


    The Olympics has a really shiny exterior…

    But, at least to me, there’s a lot of dirt underneath. Even leading up to the games. The money poured into lobbying for your city to be picked for the games. The cleanup efforts which displaces thousands of poor and homeless citizens. The way cities end up bankrupted after the fact.

    Then when the games come up you have the jingoist attitudes that everyone takes. The nonsense, the racism, the hatred etc. levied at other nations.

    I’m not really sure the “togetherness” is worth it…

  11. says

    I used to love the Olympics, but not the sports or the competition, for the most part. What I loved was the biographies of people who really went through some heavy stuff, just to walk in the opening and closing ceremonies. What I loved was how proud it makes me to be human, that people can go through SO MUCH in war-ravaged and economically exploited parts of the world and, sometimes, make it to the ceremonies. It makes me think of the millions, working just as hard, whom I’ll never know.

  12. says

    Sports is a world-wide religion. Being an anti-religionist, I thus reject sports.

    Oh, and if you don’t agree that sports has become a religion, then you aren’t paying attention. Penn State is the perfect example.

    I don’t have any problems with athletes. They’re talented people who can do some amazing things. I watch the Braves and the Yankees because the whole family is fans of both. I’ve seen some Hockey and Soccer.

    But I would give anything to see scientific achievement lauded at least as much as sports achievements are. We landed a damn 1-ton rover on Mars, and I don’t know anybody offline who cares.

    How amazing would it be if that day had been treated like the day of the Superbowl is treated every year? Imagine if every single channel (even frickin’ Comedy Central and Cartoon Network and MTV and VH1) dedicated hours of time to covering that mission. Imagine if commercials for every single piece of coverage were prime spots sold at prices at least equaling the cost of a Superbowl ad. Imagine if they had been showing coverage in bars across the country. Imagine if the vast majority of the country was tuned in, celebrating this monumental event.

    But we don’t, because there’s Football to watch, and Olympics to drool over.

    The priorities in this country are, quite frankly, ass backwards.

  13. Ken Pidcock says

    Athletes, like performance artists and actors, are people who conduct work that invokes an immediate emotional response. I more admire those who dedicate their lives to improving the human condition, but I cannot deny the joy of watching Carmelita Jeter pointing to the clock. Triumph is compelling.

  14. votecaboose says

    Sport is all about selfishness. MY team will win. MY body is the best. Athleticism is all about the self. Dedicating years of hard work to landing a truck on Mars is arguably a lot more selfless, and therefore more laudable.

  15. says

    On another web site (a web forum), I posted “wake me when the games are over.”

    I’ve watched very little, and then only because I happened to be within view of a TV screen.

    Sure, it can be great for those who want to watch. It’s just that there are lots of other things that I would rather do.

  16. Kilane says

    It’s always been a hobby of mine to watch great people do what they are great at. Great singers, rappers, speakers, hackers, writers, mathematicians, physicists, astro physicists, football players, runners, judo contenders, sculptors, inventors etc

    I admire the drive, focus, training and dedication it takes to perform amazing feats. It’s not just about running in a circle or throwing a spear. It’s picking something you want to be good at and being the best in the world. That’s something we can all admire.

    Can’t we celebrate all human achievement instead of denigrating physical achievements while glorifying mental achievements? Both are impressive and we can be in awe of several things at once. Don’t knock the Olympics, build up the space program.

  17. says

    Imagine if every single channel … dedicated hours of time to covering that mission.

    As I recall that described the moonshots. At least the early ones, before space became commonplace.

  18. OurSally says

    I wanted to be the Olympic grinch and I have managed it. I didn’t see a single event, even though my menfolk had the television running all through. I didn’t watch the opening or closing ceremony (though my daughter sent me the bit with the Queen, which was nice). I am proud to announce this.

    Mars is much more fun. A rover on Mars! A one-ton vehicle abseiled down and landed right way up! Another device photographed it on the way down! It doesn’t get cooler that that!

  19. Dave says

    Are you all going to be such miserable sourpusses when the paralympics are on? Or is it only OK to be a mizzog about able-bodied people celebrating their physical potential?

    People must be entertained, Mr Gradgrind. And a million times better it should be athletes striving to outperform the best in the world, than it should be plastic wannabee slebs in yet another fake ‘reality’ show.

  20. Amy Clare says

    I’m with you OB. I’ve watched a fair bit of it, and I can be impressed by the athletes’ achievements AND frustrated that they get called ‘heroes’ at the same time. I found it very entertaining at times, and there were some personal stories that touched me (US judo champ Kayla Harrison as an example) but I can still acknowledge that primarily athletes train and compete for themselves, not anyone else.

    What significance does it have that ‘Team GB’ came third in the medals table? The way some people are reacting over here it’s like they’ve won WW2 all over again. I’m sick of seeing people telling me I ought to be ‘proud to be British’, simply because of the achievements of a tiny group of people who happened to be born on the same bit of land as me.

    I have nothing against them personally, obviously, and the acheivements of any athlete, British or no, can be inspiring. BUT, our Govt is still shafting poor and vulnerable people, still giving tax cuts to the rich, still selling off our health service, etc. After the excitement dies down this will still be the case. Proud to be British? What does that even mean?

    The BBC devoted a little segment of its coverage yesterday to people who had worked at the games, ferrying audience members around, translating, giving tech support, etc. They were volunteers, and nobody asked why they hadn’t been paid for the undoubtedly hard work they did (one of them said they’d been sleeping in a tent on a rugby pitch). They all had big smiles for the camera of course, maybe they were just proud to be British.

  21. maureen.brian says

    I know I’ve just got up of a Monday morning, Nathaniel Frein @ 12, but I am struggling to work out which vast population of the already desperate was moved aside for the London Olympics. Beijing, yes, and Rio, almost certainly, but those are commentaries on the way some countries are run whether or not the Olympics are in prospect.

    As I was in London when all this began to happen, I can remember just two rows. The first involved living people – a number of locals who ran well-established, council-owned allotments who had to move and didn’t want to. Sympathy for them certainly but a major human rights abuse? No.

    The other fuss was about the equestrian facilities in Greenwich Park. The space has been a park since the 1480s with various buildings at different times, not all properly recorded. There was concern that JCBs would go digging large holes where an archaeologist’s trowel should go first. I can’t remember exactly how but this was resolved.

    Everything else used existing facilities, though how Nicholas Hawksmoor would feel about his fine piece of ceremonial architecture – appearing at a gallery near you in any number of paintings – being used for beach volleyball is anyone’s guess.

    At the risk of boring people to death for this thought has been on the news at least twice a day for 7 years, the Olympic Park was built on land contaminated by 200 years and more of industrial activity and the pretty, flower-banked “canals” you see are the last navigable tributary of the Thames, the River Lea (or Lee, the matter has never been settled) and Limehouse Cut, which brought the eighteenth century canal system – another stretch of it is outside my front door – right into the London Docks.

    No! I can’t stand competitive sports but I get even more anxious at people who base their whole world-view on misapprehensions.

  22. Kim says

    No you didn’t actually use the word “vacuous”, you just said it’s only sport, not heroism, not scientists designing and building useful stuff. My view of the Olympics is that it’s less vacuous than that description. Put another way, your description of it makes it sound more vacuous than I think it is.

    You’re more than welcome to not care to watch it or to be more impressed by the landing of Curiosity than by anything an athlete does. You’re more than welcome to think we overvalue athletes in general; I don’t disagree. However, I didn’t even mention athletic skill and how impressive or beautiful or squee-worthy it is or isn’t. I was talking about the concept of the Olympics and why I value it. So which of us is not paying attention again?

  23. Dave says

    Hmm, reasons to be proud to be British? Apart from ‘we came third, suck on that!!’, of course?

    500 years of taking the lead in demonstrating the power of human potential to organise effectively for development, conquest, technical innovation, invention and domination.

    Followed by a willingness to blow all that away, impoverishing our nation in the fight against fascist tyranny [while at the same time rocking the invention of the computer, without which all this… etc].

    Followed by a leading role in establishing the United Nations, and its subsidiary organisations, and the doctrines of human rights under which they operate.

    Followed by a genuine, decades-long attempt to build a functioning social democracy [that, alas, didn’t work out so well, but we got the NHS, which is more than most].

    Followed, Thatcherism and its heirs notwithstanding [ack, spit], by remaining one of the most peaceful and prosperous societies on earth, and [mirabile dictu] one of the most welcoming to people of all colours and creeds [even the sucky ones], as so recently demonstrated…

    Of course, compared to the ideal society that you, or I, might construct in our imaginations, Great Britain sucks ass, but compared to most other actual, real, societies, it’s pretty dam’ sweet, thanks.

  24. piegasm says

    Whoops, sorry…the comment by Kim above was actually me. Yay for every blog on FtB having different rules for commenting…

  25. David says

    I too was more awestruck by Curiosity, but after Wiggins winning the Tour de France, then gold in the time trial, and the other cyclists at the velodrome (the one on Manchester where they all train is just up the road) that was it. My normally ocean deep well of cynicism almost dried up and i was swept along with the go team GeeB euphoria. I even watched rich people, with too much time and money, dancing with horses, FFS whats all that about?. One of the highlights for me tho’ was , i think it was Sian Williams on BBC Breakfast, asking (telling) Jeremy Hunt (con), that, wasnt it his lot that sold off all the school playing fields.
    I watched so much ive hardly had time to keep up with FTB, and i am now comfy chair shaped.

  26. davidmc says

    now im logged in, forgot too say, the opening ceremony was brilliant, i have heard the NBC, didnt show the danceing nurses, and lord voldemort,was this the NHS or witchcraft they objected to?
    My favourite band played it too, the Arctic Monkeys, they did the beatles better than McCartney.

  27. Gordon says

    I actually heard a commentor on a topical news program talking about the cost of the Olympics and justifying it as having lasting value… unlike the Mars Rover or CERN!

    I was astonished. In 20 years only those obsessed with Olympic trivia will be able to say with certainty where the 2012 games were hosted. (Maybe sooner, who remembers where they were before China… Australia maybe?)

  28. maureen.brian says

    I was not ignoring the treatment of workers. I just needed another couple of coffees.

    It is interesting to compare the two things which went worryingly wrong at the Olympics with another which went well and was much praised.

    Certainly, the treatment of the cleaners was appalling – the pay, the living conditions, the lot. Of course they should have been on at least the London Living Wage – not the same as the national minimum wage – properly housed and to stay within the law have been paid for that period when they were required to be present even if not actually cleaning. Who’s arguing? We’ll see who in a minute.

    Then there was G4S, a gigantic multi-national company which announced with about a week to go that it had failed to recruit 10,500 security staff. Oh, and would the government kindly bail it out while it continues to charge a megabucks “management fee” for failing to recruit ten and a half thousand people. In a period of high unemployment! Management in this case meaning not wasting money on an administrative system which would tell people whether they’d got the job or where they had to go and, also, failing to even start recruiting most of them until there wasn’t a hope in hell of getting them through the CRB check which is a necessity for anyone doing any security work in the UK.

    Compare and contrast with the volunteers – the ones in those weird purple t-shirts. They were invited to apply well in advance with a far more detailed CV than it would take thee or me to get a job, interviewed by professionals and allocated to the jobs they’d be good at. Less than one in two were accepted, they were paid nothing and they were worked pretty hard! (I just spoke to my daughter who spent a fortnight as chauffeur/PA to the top Olympic bod – himself a gold medalist – of a European country. She is absolutely knackered and staying in bed to recover today.)

    So, what’s the difference? Well, examples one and two were on commercial contracts where profit seems to depend on seeing your workers as lumps of quasi-human protoplasm to be moved about and who need no information about what the fuck is going on.

    We do not ask less of volunteers. We ask more and strangely – in this as elsewhere – they deliver. Why? Because running a project as though people mattered and are not simply a hindrance to the accountants delivers and delivers well.

    I hope that after the Olympics young David Cameron will creep towards an understanding of all this – about which he has preached without any real grasp of how his own society works.

  29. says

    LeftSidePositive @ #3 said: “Clio, they may have worked as hard, but how many lives did they save? What great strides forward did they make for humanity and our technological advancements?” ‘They’ are athletes, but in different contexts could well have been mural painters, orchestral composers, or artists in any medium. Plus a whole host of others.

    How many primary educations for how many African children could have been bought with the money spent on the Curiosity probe, and which course would deliver most in the long run? I would hazard a guess and say Africa.

    The motto of the US is ‘e pluribus unum’: out of many, one. An excellent idea.

    The motto of the Olympics could be ‘out of competiton, unity’.

    Once every four years, at the close of a summer or winter Olympics, the President of the IOC declares the games closed, and then utters the magnificent coda: ‘And in accordance with Olympic tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in…” [the name of the city for the next Olympics]… for the games of the [numeric adjective] Olympiad.’

    That always brings tears to my eyes and makes me catch my breath. It is the one and only time we see and hear any leader evenhandedly address the entire world, as the entire world. It is always a moment to be savoured, because the next focus is likely to be on some politician trying to score points for their own party, country, state, province, district or whatever, or trying to dress up the sectional interest they speak for as the will of God for all humanity.

    Paradoxically then, this fierce and at times ruthless competition creates an unique focus for the world and an opportunity for it to have a common interest and feeling of unity.

    This is accented by the fact that the athletes march in like military platoons under their national flags for the opening ceremony, but drop all that and mingle, swapping uniforms in the closing ceremony.

    Sure, there is a lot of bullshit: particularly in the fact that the difference between silver, gold, bronze and the ranking of an also-ran can be measured in hundredths of a second. But out of that comes something very special indeed.

  30. sailor1031 says

    Unfortunately the Olympic games have degenerated into warfare pursued by other means. The sense of american entitlement to gold medals has been palpable throughout. The apparent need to win more than the chinese do is childish. Because of this the games are no longer very interesting. Oh and they need to get all those professional athletes out of there too! It won’t level the field but it’ll help a bit.

  31. says


    I wasn’t referring explicitly to the London Games. If that was how I came across, I apologize (and please point me to how I did so, because I’m not seeing it and I’d like to tighten up how I write in the future). I was referring to a history of corruption.

    30,000 Atlanta residents were displaced in 96, but that’s a drop in the bucket, when
    720,000 were displaced in Seoul in 88, and
    1.5 million were displaced in Beijing.
    (source here)

    Now, according to that article, five years before the London Olympics were due to start “only” 1000 people or so faced removal, but then you have to ask how many people are too many? And how many people are going to be affected by rising housing costs? And given the complete lack of follow-up response by London to say “hey, peeps, totally NOT gonna force these guys out”, I’m sorry if I was rather disillusioned well before the games even started.

    Further, that really only addresses one aspect of my dislike of the Olympics. There’s also the whole problem with how the Olympic committee is governed by a “he who spends the most, wins” mentality. The fact that cities get bankrupted by hosting the event. Nagano ended up with a tax burden of about $30,000 per family, Greece spent five percent of its GDP on the games, and Vancouver is trying to figure out how to just break even on it’s Olympic Village condos.

    Not only that, but the coverage is dripping with such greasy jingoistic nonsense from all sides (especially American, tho) that watching it makes me sick.

    I love the ideal of the Olympics, but right now I find the implementation of that ideal horribly flawed.

  32. James says

    I don’t mind people not particularly giving a shit about sports, but one thing I have noticed among a small but incredibly vocal crowd is a sort of bizarre one-upping over how much they don’t care about sports. It seems to be vitally important to them that I understand exactly how little regard they have for sports/athletes. It strikes me, in a similar way to how many other geeks stress their nonexistent knowledge of popular culture, as reverse snobbery. Especially when many of the people complaining to me do enthuse about equally ‘unworthy’/’vacuous’ things.

    I’m generally not a huge sports fan (certainly not things like football where superstar strikers earn absolutely obscene amounts while families struggle to pay for season tickets), but I enjoyed the Olympics anyway. I think the values are laudable even if the implementation sometimes falls a little short of them, and I’ve seen generally exemplary behaviour from almost all involved. It’s been a talking point for groups of people which normally share very little in common. And, it rekindles interest in physical activity in a nation which, frankly, is in dire need of more. (plus, some new venues to go do that activity in)

    It’s also aspirational (for some sports, anyway – can’t speak for horse dancing). Seeing people who have lifted themselves up through hard work and passion is a tremendous boon to young people still in poverty. And, as mentioned above – I’d far rather the nation have an athlete as a role model than the latest reality TV pseudo-celebrity or talentless manufactured pop ‘singer’

  33. says

    Why are you treating athletics and science as a zero sum game?

    Give more TV time to athletics, get less science? I don’t think so. Need I remind you that we landed on Mars during the Olympics?

    Also, every single peer review science journal was published on schedule, and every single science lab across the country (and the world) operated as usual. No scientist was harmed by the Olympics.

    And, in general, no harm is done to science by athletics. In fact, I would predict that universities with strong athletic programs probably get a lot of donations that are used to build strong facilities in the sciences and the arts. You might not agree with the reason why those donations are given, but I think gift horses come with their mouths closed.

    If you don’t like sports, don’t watch. Simple. But don’t denigrate the dedication and achievements of the athletes based on your personal preference.

    It’s entertainment. Same as ballet or modern dance. Same as playing in a rock band or a classical orchestra. You can choose what you watch. Just as the participants get to choose whether to put on track shoes versus ballet shoes, or pick up an axe versus a viola.

    Choose what you want to spend your time on, and do that. But don’t criticize those who choose to spend their time on some other thing.

    It’s elitist snobbery of the worst sort. Plus, it’s a completely anti-liberal point of view. As if you have the right to tell these athletes what they should or should not do with their bodies. I’m quite sure their personal autonomy is every bit as important to them as yours is to you.

    I’m going to also say that I thought — as usual — that the TV coverage in the US was dreadful. Jingoistic. Mainly superficial. With a weird obsession with beach volleyball and other made-for-TV sports.

  34. says

    Sigh. Kevin – and anyone else who got this wrong – I wasn’t saying any of this until yesterday when someone (Kathy or Katy, a newish commenter) accused me of harshing her squee by writing a post about something unsqueeful. I found the Olymics-emotion-policing both bizarre and annoying, so I said some of this. I also, however, said – more than once – that I did enjoy much of the Olympics and had said so.

    But with all this policing, I’m tempted to trash the whole thing, just on principle.

  35. Amy Clare says

    Dave, my point was, that the Olympics has made a lot of Brits suddenly start demanding that everyone British be ‘proud’ of that fact, simply because a few folk did exceptionally well at sport. Their view has nothing to do with the list of things you wrote (equally, I could write a list of bad things about Britain, so what).

    Quite a few people don’t find life so ‘sweet’ here at the moment actually. Particularly the unemployed, sick, disabled, old and/or poor. Things are getting worse for vulnerable people, thanks to a right-wing government run by the very rich. It’s worse in many other countries, sure. But that doesn’t mean we let the British govt off the hook and turn a blind eye to an increase in suicides, homelessness, food banks, etc.

    I’m glad if the Olympics brought sunshine into people’s lives, or inspired them, or entertained them, but I can’t help imagining David Cameron rubbing his hands together in delight at how the ‘feelgood factor’ of the games has distracted people from the nasty policies of his government.

    Sue me for feeling frustrated when the ‘proud to be British’ message is lapped up by the very people who are being shafted by Britain’s rulers.

  36. says

    Kevin @ #36… who, pray tell, is treating sports and science as a zero-sum game?

    I don’t think anyone here wants less sports… we just want more science. In my opinion, sports gets better, and grander, treatment than science does in general.

    Consider the Superbowl, the World Series, and March Madness. I’m actually all for these. I like Baseball a little bit, and if the Braves and/or Yankees make it to the World Series, I follow it closely. I couldn’t care less about Gridiron, but I love Superbowl parties… the food, the alcohol… they’re fun. I have never seen a game of Basketball in my life, and I hate that some of my favorite shows are on break during March Madness, so I kind of find it annoying, but people like it, so I’m happy for Basketball fans and players that it happens.

    Now imagine if scientific endeavors got similar treatment? I would give anything to see a day, just one day out of each year, dedicated to science. I would give anything to see US culture start to cheer science as loudly and as proudly as it does sports.

    Again… I have no problem with sports. I just want to see as much science in popular culture.

  37. maureen.brian says

    Nathaniel Frein,

    Not to worry. Please!

    There was nothing wrong with what you said or how you said it. Because you did not rule London out, I assumed it was ruled in. My bad.

  38. says

    Agreed, nobody should be required to follow any sport nor be ostracized for lack interest, but why complain about wall-to-wall coverage?

    Over here, anyway, it was easy to avoid the Olympics and still watch television. Wasn’t it that way elsewhere? I thought that in the US, NBC had the Olympics and nobody else did, but maybe that’s wrong.

    Showing every sport, as the BBC did, is democratic, long overdue, and welcome. Rather than seeing it as a monolithic OLYMPICS coverage that swamped everything else, I saw it as a chance to treat each sport equally.

    While the BBC showed the Olympics, all the other broadcast channels kept to their normal schedules. The BBC also put on 24 cable channels so that *every sport was broadcast*, but that 24 channel bundle is a drop in the bucket next to the 800 or whatever other cable channels.

    If you’re a fan of water polo, or women’s field hockey, or the discus, or the canoe slalom, most of the time you’re out of luck. Once every four years your sport might get a chance in the spotlight, but when I was in the US anyway, minor sports weren’t broadcast unless an American was in with a chance for a medal.

    I don’t care who does or doesn’t watch the Olympics–why should I? But please don’t lobby for less coverage for those of us who actually want to see obscure disciplines and usually don’t get a chance!

  39. says

    Postscript — hope Ophelia doesn’t mind me putting this here (K: I won’t take offense if you delete me!) —

    I blog about life in England for non-British, mainly American, readers, and am doing a series on Britishness as depicted in the Olympics opening ceremony. There were so many bits in the production that non-Brits probably found inexplicable that this’ll probably keep me supplied with topics for the rest of the year.

    So far, I’ve done the Shipping Forecast and the Windrush — and I thought the crowd here *might* be interested in the Windrush segment because NBC cut it, in what *might* have been a political move. Given that voices on both the British right and the American right have said the ceremony was too left-leaning, you have to wonder why NBC cut that segment, although maybe they just thought nobody in the US would get it anyway.

    I figured Americans were wondering “why is there a ship there, with a lot of black people carrying suitcases?”, and had the post mostly written before I found that NBC didn’t show the Windrush segment. It was *extremely* brief, real blink-you-miss-it stuff — it got less coverage than the suffragettes — but it was there for British viewers and not for Americans. Curious.

    Permanent link is http://mefoley.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/windrush/

  40. Dan says

    I’m another of those curmudgeons who, when told I’m supposed to like something, is very much inclined to start disliking it on principle.

    The Olympics is a bit of a trap, though, because it’s also seen in some circles as definitively cool to boycott the entire thing. Which makes me want to push back and watch every second.

    So I compromised and watched some of the highlights programmes, but absolutely not the opening or closing ceremonies. So, in my head, I’ve won.

    Anyway, my line is that there is a lot to protest about the way the Olympics is run, and what it represents. But there is also a lot to celebrate about the human endeavour (which, of course, includes sports science) involved in people stretching themselves to the limit and in the process doing things that nobody else has done in the history of the world (or just running faster than they have ever managed before).

    At the same time, landing on Mars is also a pretty big deal, for at least some of the same reasons. And it is interesting to compare the reaction to that to the reaction to a new world record in athletics.

    I want to say that it’s a shame that the former is apparently not as celebrated as the latter, without thereby diminishing the latter.

    But I also want to be able to protest at the state of science or the behaviour of scientists, while celebrating scientific successes, in much the same way as I protest at the behaviour of the Olympics organisation while celebrating sporting success.

    So at the same time as saying how great it is to land on Mars, I might also want to question why resources go into that particular thing rather than, say, the exploration of our oceans.

    Think about the moon landings. You can say, “wow, moon landing”, but also wonder about the cold war agenda of the programme, without contradiction.

    The day after Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, Viking 10 managed to reach a height of 135 miles. Yay to both, but without illusions!

  41. says

    Hahahahaha – it’s hard to keep track of all these competing pressures, isn’t it, Dan.

    I did watch most of the closing ceremony, partly because I’d seen so many tweets about it a few hours earlier, but I have to say, I found it massively boring.

    I liked the Beijing ceremonies. More like ballet or gymnastics or a Busby Berkeley musical – but better.

  42. says

    The Beijing ceremonies were awesome. Plus, the closing ceremonies at Beijing had Jimmy Page, so I’m a little biased towards them in that regard.

    Instead, these ceremonies were disorganized, out-of-focus, and, honestly, lost. I’m sure they had a vision, but I struggle to understand what, exactly, that vision was. It was a mess, to be honest.

  43. Dan says

    I don’t think you can really mean they were “disorganised”, since they were obviously highly organised. I think you must mean that they didn’t seem to be thematically coherent.

    Having only seen “highlights”, I’m not in a position to comment on that, but I would observe that the organisers are more or less on record as saying they were keen to do the opposite to China. So where Beijing did the big authoritarian spectacle, London wanted it be a more informal affair, with room for jokes and all that.

    From what people have told me, the closing ceremony was just a long party, so wasn’t even trying to have a message.


  44. says

    That’s interesting. It was very much the opposite of Beijing…but I’m thinking that what Beijing did is just better suited for a huge space and spectacle of that kind. What Beijing did was very (overtly) choreographed, while the London one was of course literally choreographed but it didn’t look choreographed – or rather, it did, but in a looser and often, frankly, uglier way. I did try to get into the spirit and party along, but…meh.

  45. says

    Yes, Dan. I did mean “thematically coherent”.

    If they wanted to go the opposite of Beijing, then they certainly succeeded. They went so far in the opposite direction that I fail to see how there was any vision at all…

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